Strategies for Developing Basic Music Knowledge

Developing basic knowledge is not thought of as fertile territory for thinking. It has been said that critical and creative thinking is only useful once students have something to think about; however, even the acquisition of basic knowledge can involve student participation and thinking.

How do your students remember the basic information they need to "do music well"? Memorizing what they read or are told by someone else is not the only path to acquisition of basic content. Following are ideas that involve students' minds as they learn basic information.

  • You are concerned that a trumpet student isn't holding the instrument at the correct rotation. You place the instrument in the desired playing position and ask the student how he or she will remember the rotation angle. A possible answer from the student that demonstrates ownership of the thinking and the solution: "The buttons (valves) are at one o'clock."
  • Use board games (such as music bingo) or active games (such as a homemade version of musical Jeopardy) to check basic facts.
  • Ask students to create a way to remember how to hold the bongo drums correctly. (The students know that the larger drum plays a lower sound and that the smaller side plays a higher sound.) Possible creative solution: "Remember 'L': Lower to the Left."
  • Posture is always important to good choral sound. A student-created idea for obtaining and maintaining good posture would be to imagine zipping up a jacket as they prepare the body for singing.
  • Beginning recorder students create squeaking sounds. You remind them that one way to prevent this is to check to be sure that their fingers cover the holes tightly. You ask the students to create an independent way to remember this. Noticing the tiny round indentations on their fingers when the holes are covered correctly, they might come up with "Check for Cheerios."
  • You are concerned that your choral students maintain a free and open throat. You suggest that they imagine they are sipping through a straw to achieve the desired palate and throat position. Ask the students for other images. Two possibilities from students are: "Feel the cold behind the teeth" and "Pretend you have a ping-pong ball in your mouth."

You may or may not suggest the initial idea or image. The important step is asking students to create their own suggestions or tips that help them build and remember the basic knowledge necessary for making music successfully.

Excerpted from TIPS: Thinking Skills in the Music Classroom.

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